One movie that has left a lasting impact on me is the 1990 Oscar nominated film, Dead Poets Society. The film has Robin Williams in the lead role of Professor Keating, an inspirational English teacher at a stern boarding school in England. Keating encourages his students to change the status quo in the system and follow their dreams. His style and philosophy faces harsh opposition from the school administration. One quote from the movie continues to stays on in my mind.
“Only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.”
This was the very idea in my thoughts, five years ago, when I quit my career in the IT industry and embarked on a journey in pursuit of photography. It has been fabulous five years spent in the mainstream media as a photojournalist learning the craft by experience. I came as a rank outsider with no academic background in either photography or journalism. In the years that followed, I reached the role of Chief Photographer at DNA newspaper in Bangalore, and alongside it I completed a full scholarship Diploma in Photojournalism from Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines.
After five years, I found myself with the very same thought of rediscovering and chasing my dreams. Did my dreams change over the years? No, not really. I still am a photographer, and love what I do. Then, what is it that has changed? I think the business of media has changed, and continues to change even as I write this blog post. I don’t find myself comfortable anymore in the existing roles of a staff visual story-teller at a traditional media organisation for plethora of reasons. I have reached a point in my life, where I want to continue doing what I love, but I want to do that by staying independent.
Yes… Independent photographer – A long cherished dream.
So, I have moved on from being an employee at a newspaper. I am now working on independent projects that are coming my way. There are plenty of things that I would want to do with respect to visual story-telling besides making photographs. Firstly, I will continue to spend more time on long-term documentary photography projects, than on making single images.
As I have mentioned in some of my earlier posts that this is the age of multimedia, I will work towards producing more of the multimedia projects. It will also mean experimenting more with sound, and video. DSLR cameras have paved way to a whole new world of visual story-telling through their HD video recording capabilities. Photographers now have more options and tools to aid them in story-telling. I have embraced HD video in the past, and now will work on video and multimedia projects that can be realised using the new breed of DSLR cameras.
Teaching & Knowledge sharing
Besides doing my own projects, I would want to share with others the knowledge that I have gained in the last five years. This means that I will be conducting workshops and go to colleges to teach students the skills needed by modern-day photojournalists, and visual story-tellers in general. Some of the core ideas or topics that I will speak about and even write about would be, long-term photography projects, multimedia for photographers, and visual literacy.
As the business of photography is rapidly changing, it is in the best interest of photographers and organisations involving photography, that they collaborate with one another at various levels. This could range from working on photography projects together, rendering services in post production, helping each other in finding and creating newer platforms for disseminating the produced body of work, and even in educating others in photography. I have long believe in collaboration and now on will work more on such collaborative projects.
New Business models
On of the reasons that Collaboration is now more important for photographers, is that the business of media has changed. It has affected the way a sustained living could be achieved through traditional ways of doing business. Media organisations are increasingly cutting costs on freelance assignments. This means that there is a need for newer ways of doing photography related business. As photojournalists, we have to find partners/collaborators at various stages in working on projects. Organisations that will give us the access to stories may necessarily not be the ones that can/will pay us. And the organisations/partners that will pay us for creation of the project may not necessarily be the ones that will give us a channel or outlet to publish our stories. We may even have to self-publish our work. These are the issues that I will tackle, and work towards finding newer business models. And my commitment to collaboration would mean that I will share my findings with fellow photographers. There are a lot of business models that work in western countries. The socio-economic conditions and cultural makeup of Indian market might need different ways to achieve the business goals.
Also, photojournalists today need not limit their skills to doing work for publishing houses only. There are many areas outside of media where photojournalism and documentary photography find its application. For example, Wedding Photojournalism in India is a booming industry. Lot of NGO and non-profit agencies need imagery that is synonymous with photojournalism. Many corporate companies do need story-tellers to document their activities and especially their CSR projects. I am constantly seeking these clients and creating imagery for them.
Today’s world tilts towards talented people with multiple skills. Certain projects or assignments will need photographers who can write, or writers who can photograph. And such situation dictates that photographers should write more. I have written quite a few articles during my tenure as a staff at newspapers even though my primary responsibility was news and feature photography. And I plan to write more now. Luckily, my habit of blogging lets me keep up my writing habits.
Also, photographers with experience, are an asset to various marketing and sales projects. Their views as consultants can drive many campaigns. For example, in my last job I handled the social media campaign for a photography contest organised by my employers for its readers. I campaigned for it on Facebook and other social media sites through my network of photographers. I have an idea of what online campaigns should be. The result of it was taking the submissions for the contest from a handful of entries to nearly two hundred of them in couple of days. Photographers should definitely work on such campaigns and projects as consultants.
Yes, Crowdsourcing! Very few web-savvy photographers need an introduction to this topic, as the concept of crowdsourcing in photography has been there for a while now. For photographers who have not yet been exposed to this idea, crowdsourcing in a nutshell would mean “getting funds from the public to produce your work.”
Does it really work? Yes, success of Crowdsourcing platforms like Kickstarter and Emphas.is in enabling photographers get funds amounting thousands of dollars from their backers is a testimony to this emerging business model. Crowdsourcing definitely is the future for documentary photography projects.
I am taking baby steps towards Crowdsourcing by enabling flattr on my website. Flattr is a social micro-payment system which allows users to make micro-payments to a community of content creators at a click of a button. I have provided flattr buttons on my blog (including this one) to allow people to support my work if they want to. Crowdsourcing is a long-term plan and it would require a community of backers and collaborators. I hope to get there soon.
Also, I have enabled advertisements on my blog, using Google Adsense, as alternative ways of monetizing my work online. I have maintained my website for few years and have a regular stream of visitors. So, it makes sense to enable advertisements on a platform where I publish my work. All my employers in the past had advertisements in their publications where my images were published, so why shouldn’t I enable advertisements : ) ? On a brighter note, I can be rest assured that contextual google advertisements can never influence me on what stories I publish on my website. I am independent. Cheers to freedom of press through online publishing!
I have made a start, but I still have a long way to go. And in the days to come, I will be seen doing the tasks outlines above. Life is a journey involving continuous learning. Learning should never stop. I do believe in Professor Keating’s words. I want to be free and independent, and I am trying to live my dream.
(Note: If you like my work, then please do share the link to this website with others. Also, if you’d like to support me in my projects, then feel free to click the ‘flattr’ button at the bottom of the post. Flattr is a social micro-payment system. )